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 Header Item Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion (Continued)
 Header Item Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] When the schools reopened during the Covid lull, high numbers of children were left without schools to attend. Children with additional needs have a constitutional right to education that is being taken away by the State's failure to provide appropriate supports to schools, teachers, assistants and their families. This is vitally important. As I have said, the Government should be legally held to account by the ombudsman. The Government should reappoint Dr. Muldoon and give him and his team the power to ensure that their recommendations are implemented for the sake of the wains.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I welcome the opportunity to give my support to the nomination again of the Ombudsman for Children. Will the Minister make a promise here today that we will have a debate at the very least once a year on the annual report of the ombudsman? It is really worth looking at the report and the ombudsman's submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the list of issues prior to reporting on the fourth periodic examination of Ireland. Reading the two reports together, one could easily despair. Although the ombudsman points to the limited improvements in respect of some legislation, he highlights the more serious issues. I know the Minister is familiar with this, but at this point we have report after report.

One would have to question why we need an ombudsman in the first place, although I am fully supportive of his office. Imagine we need an ombudsman to enforce what should be basic human rights in respect of housing, health, disability and members of minority groups. We need an ombudsman's office to monitor the Health Service Executive, Tusla and local authorities. That in itself is deserving of a debate. I think this is the first time the reports the ombudsman has placed before us have been down as an item for debate. On the previous occasion I think, subject to the Minister's correction, there was absolutely no debate at all. I hope this is the start of a debate.

What are the serious issues the ombudsman is raising? He is raising the most serious issues regarding the absence of mental healthcare for children and the absence of data. We have no proper data. He reinforces the need for housing to be part of the Constitution and the need to look at housing for children and families as a basic human right. He goes on to highlight the fact that we have failed to ratify the optional protocol to the disability convention. He also tells us we need to ratify the second optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The very last page calls on us to ratify the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography without further delay. Imagine we need an ombudsman to tell us this is what we need to do for children.

The Minister is a relatively new Minister, and I am not here to harangue him, but let us do things differently, as I have said to him before. If we have an ombudsman and reports, let us have time in the Dáil to look at the good things that have happened and the gaps and the serious issues that this man and his office of 20-something staff are raising with us. They are pleading with us to look at this and to do something about it. Giving the thumbs up to the ombudsman is good - who could object to that? - but far more useful would be to have a debate on what the Government thinks are its next steps. When will the promised review of the Children Act be done? What about the mental health legislation we have been promised a review and an update on? There has been none of that.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion: Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accommodating me. Since its establishment in 2004, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children has played a pivotal role in promoting and further enhancing the welfare and rights of children in Ireland. I commend the current ombudsman, Dr. Niall Muldoon, on the work he has overseen over the past six years. I often speak to people - obviously, all of us are in the same situation as part of our work - and I frequently hear complimentary and positive feedback about the office and the work it does. Dr. Muldoon leads an office that is open, approachable and transparent, and I take this opportunity to commend him on the leadership he has shown in the role. It says something about the office he runs that everybody seems to be in agreement here today, which is great.

The importance of independence from the Government and from any external pressure is so important to the essential function of the ombudsman's work. Dr. Muldoon's background in clinical psychology and child protection makes him highly qualified to ensure that children are properly respected and listened to. There have been several important pieces of work from the ombudsman's office. The most recent report, Unmet Needs, published in October of last year, examined the challenges faced by children who require an assessment of their needs. The findings of the report were stark and raised serious concerns about the ongoing violations on the part of this Government of the rights of children with disabilities. The report made a series of recommendations. The ombudsman appeared before the committee on children recently and was scathing of the Government's record in addressing lengthy delays faced by children and their families, extensive delays despite the legal requirement to begin an assessment of needs within three months of receiving an application.

This report shows that the ombudsman's office has been a strong advocate for children with disabilities and their families and that it aggressively pursues the rights of children, which is exactly what we need the Office of the Ombudsman for Children to do. The focus of its work must be to ensure that the Government and Government agencies take a child-centred and rights-based approach when dealing with the welfare of children. Going forward, it is import that the ombudsman continues to highlight the rights of children: their right to education, to live in a safe home, to healthcare, to food and nutrition, to practise their religions or cultures and speak their own languages, and to be empowered to be the best versions of themselves.

The most recent work on life in lockdown for children living in direct provision during the Covid-19 pandemic shows the importance of the independence of the office. There is little doubt that direct provision poses many challenges for children normally, not to mention during a pandemic. It is so important that children in Ireland are given every opportunity to enjoy safe, fulfilling and happy lives. This is particularly significant as we reflect collectively on recent weeks, in particular everything to do with the mother and baby institutions. It is evident to all that we have a fairly shameful track record when it comes to defending the rights of children in this country. The work of the ombudsman must robustly challenge the Government of the day and hold Ministers and Departments to account, and the ombudsman's office must not be simply a talking shop. It needs to examine and expose wrongdoing when it feels that children's rights have been violated. It is so important that children's rights are promoted and protected in the actions and decisions of Government bodies, including hospitals, schools and child protection services, that the service is easy for children and their families to use, and that it provides an impartial and safe environment in which children and their families can raise concerns.

I appeal to the Minister and other Government representatives to listen to the work of the ombudsman and his office as they have been doing excellent work. I wish them every success with it in the future.

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (Deputy Roderic O'Gorman): Information on Roderic O'Gorman Zoom on Roderic O'Gorman I thank the Deputies on all sides of the House for their contributions to the debate on the motion. It is my pleasure to recommend to the House that Dr. Niall Muldoon be reappointed by the President to be the Ombudsman for Children. Dr. Muldoon comes to this post with a wealth of experience. He has served very effectively as Ombudsman for Children over the past six years. He has previously served as director of investigations at the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. He is a registered clinical and counselling psychologist and was formerly the national clinical director of CARI, the children's charity. He also has extensive experience working in the area of child protection. In Dr. Muldoon I am fully satisfied we have a well-qualified, experienced and suitable nominee for reappointment as our Ombudsman for Children.

I very much welcome the significant work Dr. Muldoon has already done as Ombudsman for Children. The role of Ombudsman for Children is an integral part of what is a very significant framework supported and enabled by the Oireachtas to help improve the lives of our children and young people. I am confident that Dr. Niall Muldoon will continue to bring his extensive experience and knowledge to the position, and I am happy to put forward this resolution, namely, that the House recommends Dr. Muldoon for reappointment by the President to be the Ombudsman for Children.

  Question put and agreed to.

Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion

Minister for Finance (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 (Covid-19: employment wage subsidy scheme) (Date Adjustment) Order 2021,
a copy of which was laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 22nd January, 2021.

Following a debate last week on the Covid restrictions support scheme, the resolution for debate today seeks the approval of the House for another order which also recognises the challenges faced by businesses across the economy arising from level 5 public health restrictions and provides for additional support to be given under the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS.

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